There was a time when NoDa’s hot commodities were porn … and pastries.
While much has been said about Neighborhood Theatre’s interesting past as The Astor, a XXX porn theater (“Park in Rear” stated the marquee), just a few steps down the sidewalk was The Pastry Shop. It was a bakery that drew loyal customers from across Charlotte and might even be the birthplace of the Charlotte bagel.
We interviewed Charlottean Sue Watkins via email and did some quick research to fill in North Charlotte’s pastry past.
“I remember seeing businessmen duck in and out of there,” said Watkins, referring to the Astor. She worked part time at The Pastry Shop during high school and college in the late 1960s. The bakery supplied rolls and desserts to several large churches and caterers and was famous for its custom wedding and birthday cakes. Many longtime Charlotteans remember the shop’s honey buns, cinnamon twists, and biscuits.
A bakery at 36th and North Davidson dates back to at least the mid-1950s, when Variety Bakery opened. By 1960, it was The Pastry Shop. Watkins worked the front counter and decorated cakes under owners Charlie and Quinette “Cookie” Cook. Charlie had learned the pastry trade in the Navy and “worked hard, from 4 or 5 am until all the baking was done.” Cookie was a talented cake decorator and crafter, she said.
Teens didn’t hang out in the neighborhood too much during those days, according to Watkins. She remembers Linda’s Soda Shoppe, the YMCA, and Kostake’s Records at 35th and Davidson, her favorite place to buy 45s.
In 1966, a 3-alarm fire gutted some of the businesses on that corner. It ignited in the Hudson Manufacturing Co. next to the Astor and spread quickly through the connected attics. Hudson, which made knitwear, as well as a laundromat, several upstairs apartments, and the bakery were heavily damaged. The theater was evacuated, but escaped with smoke damage.
Nevertheless, the bakery remained on that corner for another 20+ years. It changed hands to James and Margaret Navy, then to Rick and Barbara Dudley. According to The Charlotte Observer, by the mid-1980s, it was one of only a handful of open businesses in the neighborhood, along with Pat’s Time for One More, McCullough Automotive, Consolidated Printing, and Bill’s Pub. Long-timers remember luxury cars rolling up to the bakery to pick up an order and quickly moving on.
And, it was most likely Charlotte’s first commercial bagel bakery. According to a 1987 Observer article, northerners Marty Fox and Susan Solomon rented space at The Pastry Shop. Their goal: to introduce Charlotte to the bagel. They sold their “Bubbe’s” bagels from an Uptown cart and to a number of local markets.
Time rolled on, and by the 1990s, the Dudley’s had moved their shop to Lincolnton, later renaming it 36th Street Bakery and displaying artwork. Bagel chains have since moved to Charlotte. Porn moved out, and Neighborhood Theater, Boudreaux’s, and an art gallery that became Sanctuary Pub moved in.